We all play a part in stabilizing and strengthening families
In response to the recent child fatality series, our deepest condolences go out to all families who have lost children, and to those children who are still with us who bear the lifetime scars caused by abuse and neglect.
This series has brought the safety of children to the forefront of our community. We agree that the rate of child abuse and neglect in our community is alarming as compared to other Colorado counties. Since December 2010, the Mesa County Department of Human Services has received 22,527 referrals of possible child abuse and/or neglect. Of those 22,527 referrals, 10,391 met statutory and rule-based criteria to be assessed. Of those, there were 2,710 confirmed victims of abuse and/or neglect, and of those, 1,314 children were removed from their homes and placed in out-of-home placement.
The point we should all celebrate is that 989 children who were in foster care found a permanent home along with the hundreds of children who were able to remain safely in their home. The staff of DHS and its community partners work hard every day to strengthen families and keep children safe. We reject any portrayal of our system as broken or of our workers as incompetent.
We acknowledge that complexities of family issues in Mesa County implore us to always look at ourselves and to hear from others regarding system improvement. We will never shrink from our responsibility or the need to address items for improvement.
People often mistakenly believe that the Department of Human Services is the only organization involved in the overall child protection system. The Sentinel’s presentation of these issues contributes to this belief. In reality, the “system” relies on input and expert advice from many different contributors, including the children themselves, their biological families, kinship families, foster families, school personnel, therapists, DHS case managers, service providers, Guardians ad Litem (GAL), Court Appointed Child Advocates (CASA), counselors, law enforcement, judges and magistrates, attorneys, and medical providers. These multidisciplinary teams work together to strengthen families and keep children safe. While the system continues to improve to address ever-increasing complexities, it is not, and will never be, perfect. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of all involved and despite all of the resources, tools, and training involved in these cases, we cannot predict human behavior 100 percent of the time.
Regarding the specific situations discussed in The Sentinel’s series, there were several factual inaccuracies. Despite those inaccuracies, we understand the questions and concerns of the community. People want simple answers and cannot fathom how these tragedies could have occurred. The simple answer is, there is no simple answer regarding the complex, sometimes multigenerational and socio-economic challenges families in these situations face. Our system is charged with the responsibility of sorting through complex, incomplete and imperfect information throughout a case. This, along with critical input from the community, is used to make immediate and ongoing safety decisions and recommendations to the courts.
The child welfare system, through the work and dedication of our collective staff, places the safety and long-term wellbeing of children as our highest priority. To accomplish that, a strong network of kinship and foster homes, and support for both, is vital.
As a system, we will continue to challenge ourselves to have the most qualified workforce possible, and to constantly evaluate how our system performs within the rules and laws that govern and dictate our decisions. We will continue to challenge this community, and remind all of us to do our part in strengthening and stabilizing our families.
To report suspected child abuse or neglect, please call 970.242.1211 or 844.264.5437. In an emergency, call 911.
Tracey Garchar is the executive director for the Mesa County Department of Human Services.